Why Autonomous Trucks Raise Special Legal Questions
So far, self-driving cars have gotten most of the attention. For some, the commuter revolution has already arrived as they’re chauffeured to and from appointments in an autonomous vehicle.
But another, often less-often-discussed revolution seems inevitable. In some ways, it might wind up making an even bigger difference in American life.
Truck accidents are different
Some of the unanswered questions about autonomous trucks are the same as those for autonomous cars. But trucks really are different.
A commercial truck on the open highway can easily weigh 20 to 30 times as much as a family car, so its momentum at highway speeds can be catastrophic if involved in an accident.
Worse, commercial trucks often haul material that can multiply the damage of an accident. There hazardous materials like explosives, toxic and infectious substances, radioactive materials and corrosives. But heavy objects like stonework, glass, concrete, logs, lumber, pieces of heavy equipment, and steel and iron beams and girders can come loose and do tremendous damage on their own.
Trucks drivers are different
Because of these differences, a truck driver’s professional skill and personal judgment can be especially consequential for other drivers.
The job demands and working conditions set by trucking companies that hire or contract these truckers may be even more consequential. Car drivers are also at the mercy of the laws and regulations affecting the commercial trucking industry.
If you or someone you love are hurt or killed in an accident involving a truck, a good attorney will look into the condition and qualifications of the driver, the company’s business and labor practices and how these might have played a role in the accident.
Laws and lives still matter if trucks are autonomous
Some of the new legal questions now being considered involve how, or even whether, the companies that design, program and profit from autonomous trucking will be held liable for crashes.
The managing partner of a transportation analysis firm told Business Insider, “If the self-driving truck runs into somebody, there’s no truck driver to sue. We have to change the liability law to include and indemnify the maker of the truck.”
To find out whether or not this feeling of urgency to guard truck manufacturers against lawsuits are about to guide new laws and court precedents, everyone will have to wait for the technology to hit the highways and perhaps the courtrooms shortly thereafter.